The "myth" of querying ?? Doo-Dah, Doo Dah.



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  • The "myth" of querying ?? Doo-Dah, Doo Dah.

    Looking for discussion, not "pie in the sky" cheerleading or arrogant chest pounding.

    OK, assuming we have learnt and practiced the craft, done our research -- we have finished our first or our eighth script, done rewrites, fixing, fiddling and polishing. Maybe we've even gotten positive feedback. By God, we think it's good. Time to throw it out to the film world.

    But, now what? We have no contacts in the "biz," we don't live in L.A. or any other film center. Well, we query, of course. Isn't that what all the books say? Isn't that mostly the advice we get?

    OK, we query away. Some of us are selective, others aren't. We wait with high hopes. They've got to find material somewhere, don't they? And ours is "good."

    We're not naive enough to not know how competitive the field is. What we don't know yet is how many people are doing this. Apparently some with few or no skills, cluttering up what little access there may be.

    I feel sorry for the people who are inundated with our queries and scripts. Yep, I said that. It is not their job or responsibility to read everything that crosses their desks.

    I know people get reads. I watch all the agent etc. sections. I see people discussing waiting for months for responses while still maintaining their high hopes.

    Gig has said she used to do a lot of querying but I think she got her "break" from a couple of major contest wins. "I could be wrong." (wink)

    I know Tina got an agent rather quickly by querying, but who wouldn't pay attention to a letter from her. That delightful wackiness is bound to show through. Now, she is starting to doubt him.

    I have slowly begun to hear more pro's voices, going against the conventional wisdom, and saying flat out "querying is a waste of time and effort."

    Not really expecting "answers," just discussion, opinions and experiences.


  • #2
    Here're my thoughts on query letters.

    I don't even recognize the validity of questioning whether one should send out query letters or not. How the hell else will one get a reading? Storming CAA with an M-16 and a sack of C4?

    And plus living in LA. Living in LA don't do shhit for you if you don't put some elbow grease into it. Last time an agent tapped me on the back while I was waiting in line at Starbucks and asked to read my script: never.

    So the question -- or the _good_ question -- is how best to query.

    To wit: Ought one send query letters to the big agencies that declare they don't consider unrecommended stuff?

    I think thus: If an agent gets a compelling letter from you, and so comes to believe you've written a compelling script, why would he not ask to see it? Can we doubt that if he thinks it's salable, he's seeing dollar signs?

    Obviously, the reason for the declared policy against spec stuff is clear. These big agencies don't want their offices filling to the ceiling with fourth-rate scripts.

    But it's worth repeating, to my mind, that there ain't no law that keeps an agent at CAA from signing you and selling your script, in the way that there might be some union law keeping some non-union stage hand from working on some set on some location somewhere at sometime.

    So, personally, because I know I can write a devastatingly clever letter, I'm taking aim at big agents at big agencies.

    I'll leave the small agents to the small writers.


    • #3

      What's your definition of a "small writer"? No chest pounding or confrontation; I just need a concrete context/category.

      Lil: Again, no "bad-boy-stuff", just some conjecture...

      * If one is not in La-La and has no contacts, I don't see how querying can be avoided if progression in this chosen field is to occur.

      * Querying exists in many (if not most) professions, and (to my mind) is always a good skill to hone, just like snappy dialogue, pacing, etc. A lawyer I know (before the "Lawyer-Glut" occurred in the 70's) had to send out 100 such letters just to get 2 replies. One was a "no-thank-you", the other started his career. Anything that starts the career is good, IMO.

      * To play Devil's Advocate, most writer-folk (and also the artist-folk) that I know didn't get as much from queries as they did from referrals from people who liked them. That initial "like" led to others reading their work, and progress was made.

      Well, that's enough for now. But it's a good thread and a good question to ponder.

      Best, kosk


      • #4
        Re: Zaps?

        That was too, too funny, Zaps. Glad you have that all under control.


        Say, how you doing with those "devastatingly clever letters" to those big agents who only handle big writers?

        Maybe you could help us all out with a little sample.

        Oh, Gawd, I may be laughing at that one for the rest of the day.


        • #5
          Re: Zaps?

          <!--EZCODE BOLD START--> Maybe you could help us all out with a little sample.<!--EZCODE BOLD END-->

          Oh sure, I'd be delighted to share my letter with you!

          Dear Sir or Madam:

          I have this most very good script which I would like very, very much for you to sell and give to producers and make money from because I've done a lot of writing and I know how important lots of writing is to do if you're a writer, although notwithstanding the fact that policies say don't consider you if you're still writing to agents, I think you shall find it's a very, very, very good script and shall be excited at our professional prospects together as a team in this most challenging industry that is called Hollywood!

          Warmest regards,



          • #6
            Re: Zaps?

            Please tell me that was a joke.


            • #7
              Re: Zaps?

              Well, Zaps, that was certainly a "devastatingly clever letter." Have you written an equally masterful script? I wonder, how many sales have you had thusfar? Surely a person of your obvious talents is hob-nobbing with the likes of Cameron, Speilberg, etc. by now - right?


              • #8
                Re: Zaps?

                <!--EZCODE BOLD START--> Have you written an equally masterful script?<!--EZCODE BOLD END-->

                My script is even better!!!


                • #9
                  Querying As Folk

                  There are different approaches to getting your script out there, but I think we allrealize that if you don't submit them to someone---anyone---you'll certainly be less likely to sell. That being said, many writers find they do best through personal referrals and such. They know someone who knows someone, etc., and by hanging around at the right parties and so on, get their scripts read. But not all of us can do that. In the old days, you queried everything---books, short fiction, articles, etc. It was an understood way of doing business. Now I think it's not so much the writers who have changed as the buyers. Today a letter just doesn't do much, whereas a personal contact means a real human being to deal with. My preference is e-mail queries and phone calls.


                  • #10
                    Is There Another Way?

                    I'm getting ready to send out a pile of letters to cable movie producers after spending a couple of years spinning my wheels in studio meetings. Those are query letters - even thought many of the people I'll be writing to I've met. I'll work the phones, too (verbal queries.)

                    You HAVE TO try to communicate with these people, right? How else will they know you exist?

                    True story: When I first came to LA I had made a sale, but knew no one. I needed to make another sale (or learn how to work the fry machine at MCD's) so I made up these funny fake yellow page ads about my scripts. I sent them to every producer in LA. I kept sending similar "flyers" three times a year to everyone on my mailing list - even after I had sold TREACHEROUS and seemed to have a career. And the producer of DUMB & DUMBER invited me to the premeire of his new movie! He saw my name 3 times a year on my "junk mail". How many other people in town "knew me" from those silly "flyers"? I began bumping into them! One producer made me a deal - he'd read my best script if I took him off my mailing list. He read it and bought it.

                    Okay - how many of those thousands of mailings were a waste of time? None of them. There was no way for me to know who I was going to score with and who I was going to fail with. If I sent out 1,000 letters and made one sale, it was successful.

                    No matter HOW you do it, you have to let people know you're out there. How else can they find you?

                    - Bill


                    • #11
                      Re: Is There Another Way?

                      Here, here... buy that man a bottle of champagne to pour down his throat at the tick of Midnight on the last day of the best year of my life thus far. Querying is essential to people not in the LA area. It is a skill that is never, ever wasted. I've sent out my (what seems like) 1000 queries and still don't have the sale. But I have scripts I believe in and concepts and ideas that are fresh along with non stop requests for my material... the sale is only a matter of time. Querying is what the screenwriter is about whether it be by e-mail, phone call, snail mail, etc. Obviously someone in the business is the best way to get in... but I'll tell you something. I like challenges. My best friend's uncle has played the Phantom of the Opera over a thousand times over nine years (the last in conjuction with Paul Stanley of Kiss) and I know him quite well. He's elbow to elbow with Norm Jewison, Mike Fox and several Canadian biggies that come from my cold world north of most of you guys. And he got to the top the hard way... he proved himself. Know what..? He doesn't even know I've got a script yet. When the time comes when I absolutely have no choice but to call on the only insider I know. I'll do it. But for now... I ain't gonna. I learn much more about the business by doing it my way. I am lucky to have the choice and a good second job... so I query. I query my ass off. I only send the script out to people I can find some info on... and I go with what I got. I polish and fix with the rest of you and that is what I think this BIZ is about. It isn't the fame, glitter and glory. It's about putting out the best product you can come up with... and then rewriting it... again and again. You gotta love it. If you want my advice... QUERY!! You'll never regret it.

                      Laters... and a helping of luck to go along with my best wishes for the New Year.



                      • #12
                        Well I got a lot of breaks Lil. One of my longest standing friendships/working relationships is with someone I cold called before those contests though. And I have ties to this day to people that came straight out of querying, either by letter or phone, just picking up the phone and calling strangers and just writing letters to people I did not know saying, Read me, I promise it is worth your while, just read me. If you cannot do that, you will not get read and no one will ever see your work. So you have to decide. Do you want to get read? Then you do everything in your power to get read.


                        • #13
                          okay, here's a question...

                          ...if "getting in" is such a roulette table/crapshoot/lottery, then isn't every query that we write the equivalent of buying ten (or twenty) lotto tickets instead of one or two? Doesn't that increase the odds?


                          • #14
                            Re: okay, here's a question...

                            Well Lil,

                            When I first completed my screenplay to what I thought was a polished draft I quickly began querying adding to the statistics of newbies without a clue, cluttering up the desks of agents.

                            My first batch of five only got 2 rejections and the other 3 no responses at all. I quickly revised my query letter believing that I must not be presenting my script well. I sent out about twenty more queries. I've had three requests, about five rejects, and the rests no replies. Still no agent or deal.

                            So now I've resolved that it has to be the script. I got a few more writers to read it and they gave me a wake up call. It's the script. Not that it's horrible. But it could be better.

                            So now it's back to the editing board. And now that I have some distance from it, two other completed screenplays, and the daily knowledge I gain about the craft I can attack the chore of yet another rewrite more objectively. Then with my revised query letter AND script maybe those requests will turn into some offers. However had I never queried anyone I would not have realized that I wasn't reaching my full potential or making the Hollywood grade. So though nothing has come of my querying other than the joy of knowing that I sparked enough interest in my writing to make professionals request it I have learned and I am still learning my weaknesses which in the end will make me a better writer. So querying is good. No thank you's are good. Rejection is a learning experience. There's those rose colored glasses again.



                            • #15
                              Re: okay, here's a question...

                              I'm looking at it this way:

                              A query letter must do for a writer what a resume does for someone in the regular business world. It calls attention to you and your abilities, making the reader want to see/hear more of you. Simply put, it's goal is to get you a job interview.

                              Once you're in that interview, you must sell yourself and your abilities instantly. Most job interviewers know whether or not an applicant is right for the available position within two or three minutes of starting the interview.

                              Sounds a lot like a pitch meeting, eh?

                              We all know what happens to the pile of resumes sent to companies looking to fill positions--the same thing that happens to the pile of query letters agencies, studios and prodcos get.

                              Many resumes are works of fiction. So is a query letter. It must be more memorable than your script. That's why I prefer snail mail-- my query letters are on resume paper, with a simple, tasteful logo. it feels different in a reader's hand, looks different, and the content speaks for itself (as it should). Sure, it sounds corny, but I believe it's an advantage. It stands out and hopefully stays out of the slush puddles.